DANNY GRAINGER is the only Hearts player to have started every game this season – but that run is now in jeopardy as his wife Heather prepares to give birth.
Baby Grainger is already over a week overdue in popping into the world, so the left-back knows there’s a genuine chance he might even have to miss tomorrow’s noon encounter with his old club St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
“I don’t want to miss any games, but knowing my luck, she’ll drop on the morning of a game. It could be tomorrow for all I know, but I’ve spoken to the manager about it and we’ll just have to wait and see when it happens how we deal with it. Me and Heather can’t wait – we just want the baby here now. The family are constantly on the phone asking if anything’s happened yet. It’s a hectic time ,but you just have to come in and do your job and focus as best you can. I’ve been leaving my phone with the canteen ladies when I’m training, so they can come and get me if anything happens. The manager has been letting me take my car to away games so if anything happens I can shoot off. The club’s media guys will probably have my phone in the stand tomorrow just in case.”
While excited about his impending new arrival, the Cumbrian is also relishing the prospect of reacquainting himself with some old faces tomorrow as he faces the club he left in the summer. He’s braced for a touch of animosity, however, as he knows some Saints people feel jilted that he said he was leaving to return to England, only to join another Scottish club.
“I can’t wait to go back to St Johnstone,” he says. “I’m still really close to quite a few of their boys. I owe [Saints boss] Derek McInnes and [assistant] Tony Doherty a lot of gratitude for what they did for me. I was unhappy at Dundee United when they gave me another chance. I had two really good years there.
“I decided I wanted a change of scenery and fancied going to test myself down south – that was my main aim. But once I spoke to Jim Jefferies, there was no way I could turn down a club of Hearts’ size.
“I think Derek was a bit of aggrieved that I came. I’ll probably get a hostile reception from the fans. They’ll probably say I was lying through my teeth about wanting to go back to England, but this move genuinely came up out the blue at the last minute and it was a chance to forward my career.”
And forward his career he has done. Having arrived as a likely squad man in the summer, the departure of Lee Wallace has left Grainger as Hearts’ only recognised left-back. As a result, he’s been the only player immune to Paulo Sergio’s rotation in the Europa League and Scottish Communities League Cup games. “I’m just happy to be playing every week and doing well,” he continues. “When I signed, a lot of people thought I was coming to be a squad player, but I said from the start that I was coming here to play. Of course, it helps that I’m the only recognised left-back.
“I know if Lee was still here I wouldn’t have started every game, so I seem to have landed on my feet and I’m loving it. I’d like to think my performances have been good enough that, even if there was another left-back here, I’d still have played a lot of games.
“It boosts your confidence knowing that, because there’s no other left-back, you’ve got a good chance of playing every game. I hate missing games or being rested, so it’s perfect for me that I’m playing all the games when some of the other guys are getting rested in the cup ties.”
Grainger has been one of Hearts’ standout players this season, although he will be keen to atone for a rare aberration when his penalty miss played a part in the shootout defeat at Ayr United in the League Cup.
In the grand scheme, with Hearts unbeaten in their last six league games, Grainger is not unduly concerned by Wednesday’s setback.
“I’m always confident when I take my penalties, but unfortunately I missed,” he says. “It wasn’t a great performance by any means but we still did enough to win the game. Marius [Zaliukas] was unlucky with the slip and the two goals we’ve conceded in the last six games have been from slips by Zal or Jamie [MacDonald, against Inverness], so it shows how strong we are at the back.
“You can’t be too harsh on players when they slip because these things happen. Strikers and midfielders slip all the time, but no-one notices it, but if a keeper or a defender slips it can cost you a goal.”